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USC and L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art broach partnership

The ambitious university could stabilize the struggling museum while raising the school's art world profile, some say. Others worry about MOCA's independence.

December 05, 2012|By Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times

Baldessari was one of them. "The real problem [at MOCA] is it's a dysfunctional board. USC has deep pockets, but how much money they would give would be [an important] thing, and how much influence they would have on the direction of MOCA because of that money would be another thing," Baldessari said.

The USC Fisher Museum of Art opened in 1939 and has a collection of about 1,800 works; it offers contemporary art exhibitions and shows focused on the Old Master paintings that are a hallmark of its collection. The museum "has had a kind of minimal presence in L.A., and [an affiliation with MOCA] would enhance their status," Baldessari said.

Baldessari added that USC's Roski School of Fine Arts "is beginning to raise its profile, but it's still not on the level" in art-world prestige as fine arts departments at UCLA, California Institute of the Arts, Otis College of Art and Design, Pasadena's Art Center College of Design and UC San Diego.

MOCA officials have refused since the summer to provide updates on its finances for the 2011-12 fiscal year that ended June 30, or for the projected budget in the current fiscal year. The only public statement on MOCA's funding came in a commentary that Broad wrote in July for The Times' opinion pages: Broad said the budget for 2012-13 was $14.3 million, which would be MOCA's lowest since the 1990s. MOCA laid off seven staff members in July.

Another potential area of financial concern is the expiration, after 2013, of Broad's pledge to provide $3 million a year for five years to support its exhibitions. His own Broad Collection museum is scheduled to open in 2014 across the street from MOCA's Grand Avenue headquarters.

MOCA is the only major museum in Los Angeles that doesn't have a substantial safety net.

The J. Paul Getty Trust, the Norton Simon Museum and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens all began with big endowments from extremely wealthy founders. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art receives guaranteed funding from county taxpayers — currently nearly $29 million annually. And the Hammer Museum, founded by an oil baron who died without ensuring its finances, has been affiliated since 1994 with UCLA. Its annual operating budget has risen to $17.2 million, surpassing MOCA's.

USC, meanwhile, is in aggressive expansion mode. About a year ago it announced what is billed as the biggest fundraising campaign in the history of higher education, with a goal of $6 billion by 2018.

Wallis Annenberg, head of the L.A.-based Annenberg Foundation, is on both the USC and MOCA boards. The foundation and the Annenberg family have given at least $350 million to USC since 1971. Suzanne Nora Johnson, wife of MOCA board co-chair David Johnson, serves on USC's board.


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